Hesal is to Jharkhand what Mokhra Khas is for Haryana. While Mokhra Khas is a village of wrestlers - Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik is from this village - Hesal is a village of hockey players.
This nondescript village in Maoist-affected Khunti district, around 50km from state capital Ranchi, has the distinction of producing around 20 international women players including an Olympian, Nikki Pradhan, who recently represented India at Rio in the women’s hockey team.
Since 1988, around 55 girls have also made it to the national circuit playing at national level tournaments in different age groups. At least 20 girls have travelled to foreign shores playing for the nation.
Hockey runs in the blood of people of this village comprising around 60 families. Hockey sticks are found in every house in this village where farming is the main occupation. Girls are more fascinated by the game, and so, not surprisingly, the village has produced more female players.
As soon as the girls get selected for national camps, they procure their passports because they never know when would they have to travel abroad to play.
Children grow up in acute scarcity, but they religiously play and practice hockey during the spare time. Hockey also serves as the only source of entertainment for them.
So how has this been possible? The girls attribute it to one man, Dashrath Mahato, a teacher posted at the upgraded government high school in Pelol near Hesal village, who has been inspiring and coaching the girls for the last two decades.
From Bigan Soy, goalkeeper of the junior Indian women’s team who helped India win bronze in the 2013 World Cup by saving crucial shots during a penalty shootout against England to Nikki Pradhan, the first woman hockey player from Jharkhand to play for India at an Olympics, coach Mahato has trained and nurtured all the hockey stars of Hesal.
“Yes, it is an honour when people identify me as the coach of these superstars of hockey,” says a candid Mahato, whose tireless efforts to produce champion players haven’t been acknowledged by the government yet.
“I do not hanker for appreciation or felicitation but now that I am on the verge of retirement, I am worried for the future of the sport in the village and surrounding areas,” the coach said. If health permits, he would continue nurturing talents at other platforms, he added.
Since there is no proper facility for training, the girls after selection in state and national teams often migrate to the district headquarters in Khunti or to Ranchi to brush up and upgrade their skills.
Though there is an astro turf stadium at the district headquarters in Khunti, it is in a dire state due to neglect and lack of maintenance.
“We have earmarked some funds to repair and maintain it,” Khunti deputy commissioner Chandra Shekhar said.
He is elated that he has several champion players from Hesal who could be of great help to further the government’s welfare and development schemes by becoming brand ambassadors.
“Recently, we nominated Nikki Pradhan as our brand ambassador for the Swachhta Abhiyan (cleanliness drive),” he said, adding, “We are going to felicitate Pradhan for her participation in the Rio games on September 13.”
Former Olympian Sylvanus Dung Dung, who was recently felicitated by the President with the Dhayanchand Award, said that the village deserves appreciation for producing the gems. “The entire district, and especially Hesal, has been dominating women’s hockey for decades. I hope the district administration pays more heed and supports the players in all possible ways to bring more laurels for the state and the country,” he said.
He pointed out that while Jharkhand’s dominance in hockey has waned due to negligence, neighbouring Odisha where players are treated better and supported well is emerging stronger.
Prominent hockey players of Hesal who wore international caps include Helen Soy, Savitri Purti, Biswasi Purti, Alma Guria, Dayamani Soy, Pushpa Pradhan, Biswasi Bhengra, Nikki Pradhan, Shashi Pradhan, Salomi Purti, Guddi Kumari, Anima Soreng and Basanti Kachhap.